MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – A group of former Cuban sugar mill owners, who sought refuge in the U.S. after their lands and property were seized in the 1959 Cuban revolution, have entered fray after an interview earlier this month in which billionaire sugar baron Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul spoke publicly for the first time about his thoughts on expanding his business into Cuba.
In an article published in the Washington Post on February 2nd Fanjul, the CEO of Fanjul Corp. spoke of his recent trips to the island and his interest in bringing the family’s vast sugar holdings back there. He wouldn’t say whether that would be contingent on the deaths of President Raul Castro and brother Fidel Castro or on the end of the island nation’s communist system.
In response to those comments, The National Association of Sugar Mill Owners of Cuba took out a full page ad in The Miami Herald on Sunday, February 16th on their position.
“Alfonso Fanjul and his family have long been active members of our voluntary Association. Consistent with our democratic traditions, Mr. Fanjul is, of course, entitled to his opinion on how best to pursue his interests, however narrow these may be. But so there is no confusion, this Association stands united with Cuba’s internal democratic opposition and civil society against the Castro regime.”
“It is our further position that any so-called negotiations or dialogue in pursuit of economic rights must include the social and political rights intrinsic to all Cuban citizens, as these are inseparable. Necessarily, any conversation on how to advance the future good of Cuba must also be to the exclusion of the Castro dictatorship and its collaborators; dealing with the Castro brother is legally pointless, as they in no way represent the will of the Cuban people.”
Despite some support for Fanjul, 76, after the interview, the response from several Cuban political leaders was harshly critical.
“I am outraged by reports that a fellow Cuban-American, who has witnessed the atrocities inflicted by the Castro regime, has apparently chosen short-term profit over standing with the Cuban people,” said South Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, whose family also fled the revolution.
U.S. Congresswoman Ilean Ros-Lehtinen was even more direct in a statement she released on February 13th which read in part:
“At a time when the democracy activists on the island are facing even harsher reprisals from the brutal Cuban regime, it’s pathetic that a Cuban-American tycoon feels inspired to trample on the backs of those activists in order to give the communist thugs more money with which to repress. The only little old thing that is standing in Alfy’s way of realizing these sleazy business deals with the devil is US law. He doesn’t talk about the arbitrary arrests of pro-freedom leaders in Cuba or the continual beatings endured by the peaceful Damas de Blanco. Oh no, for Alfy, the only hindrance to turning a profit off the suffering of the Cuban people is pesky US laws and he is working with groups to undo those laws.”
Fanjul fled Cuba as a young man, leaving behind his family’s mansions and vast sugar-cane fields. In the U.S., he built a sugar empire and became a principal in the funding the anti-Castro movement in the U.S.
In the Post interview, Fanjul said in his trips to Cuba his primary desire was to reconnect with his roots. But he also seemed to be appealing to the U.S. government. Fanjul is close to former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, who is considering a White House run in 2016.
Fanjul told the Post he would only explore business considerations on the island if there political advances.
“Right now there’s no way for us to consider investing in Cuba. How can you work a deal if you’re not legally allowed to do it?” he told the paper. “If there’s an arrangement within Cuba and the United States, and legally it can be done and there’s a proper framework set up and in place, then we will look at that possibility.”
He also sent a note of caution to communist leaders: “Cuba has to presumably satisfy the requirements that investors need, which are primarily a return on investment and security of the investment, so they feel comfortable with what they’re doing.”
Fanjul lives Palm Beach. His family holdings include Domino Sugar and refineries across the United States, Latin America and Europe.
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